By Bob Plott
Please allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is Bob Plott. I have written four books on the Plott hound, southern mountain bear hunters, and Appalachian history, along with writing monthly columns in Full Cry and American Cooner magazines. I also do additional free-lance writing for various other outdoor publications. We also proudly continue to raise and hunt the Plott bear hounds that my family originated in the mid-18th century.
I am excited to be added to the writing roster of this fine publication, and I look forward to sharing a variety of stories with you ranging from hunting history and character profiles, to most anything pertaining to hunting bears with hounds.
None of this makes me special. This isn’t bragging, it is simply an introduction among friends. I don’t claim to be world’s best bear hunter, writer, dog breeder, or anything else, nor do I take any credit for these great dogs. We simply use the knowledge that was passed onto us in an effort to do our small part in perpetuating the legacy of hound hunting.
Like most of you I am a bear-hunting enthusiast. And like many of you, my preferred method of bear hunting includes the use of bear hounds to strike a bear trail, stay with it, and eventually bay or tree Mr. Bruin. The sound of bear hounds on a hot race is like music to my ears.
Now, with all being said, the Plott hound is obviously my hunting dog of choice –and I am proudly biased toward them, as I believe there are no better big game dogs in the world today. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate and see the value in other breeds of bear dogs –I do.
I have seen outstanding purebred Walkers, Red Bones, Blue Ticks, Curs, and every other pure bred and mixed breed mongrel or grade dog, in between, and I respect them all. Performance is all that matters –I think we can all agree on that. And regardless of our breed of choice, there is something else that we can likely concur with as well – the importance of a good pedigree.
Okay, before you start barraging me with feedback that pedigree papers mean nothing in the woods, and that registration papers are good for nothing but toilet tissue – please hear me out. I totally agree with you, but only to a certain degree.
Do good papers guarantee superior performance in the woods? Absolutely not. But in my opinion, they do provide a solid road map in getting you there. Please allow me to explain.
No breed icon – past or present – can legitimately claim that they have ever taught a bear dog to strike a trail and stay on it. Nor can you teach tenacity, intelligence and tree power. That is bred into a dog, it either is born with those traits, or the hound simply doesn’t have it. No amount of dog training will change that.
However if your dog is born with those attributes, then they can be finely honed and developed by hunting them hard and often. It’s no different than boxing or any other sport – practice makes perfect. But as in boxing, fighters – like dogs – are born with a great heart. Any good trainer can teach technique like footwork, or a perfect jab, right cross, left hook combination –but you can’t teach heart. You can’t instill into a boxer the need to keep fighting even when injured or losing a fight. It’s either in his DNA or it isn’t. A champion will fight until he is knocked out or wins the bout. That is ALL heart.
The same principle applies to bear hounds. I don’t care what type of trainer or dog whisperer you claim to be –nose, tenacity, intelligence and tree power cannot be taught—refined yes, but never taught. I am reminded of a classic quote by Plott icon Vaughn “Von” Plott regarding this topic in the early 1970s:
“I never entered my dogs in bench shows. I cared nothing for that. A few people bought dogs from me and entered them and they did fine. A bench show proves what your dog looks like according to breed standards. Nothing wrong with that, but it has nothing to do with performance. You have to get them in the woods when they are old enough to see what they got to determine their performance – and if they are worthy of breeding. Papers don’t guarantee performance, but they will give you an advantage in knowing what you are breeding and what to expect from a litter. Your odds of producing consistently good bear dogs increase greatly if you know the bloodlines and what you want to keep in them. Line breeding is important too, and line breeding the right way requires knowledge of what’s behind them. Now, as far as training goes, outside of getting them in the woods, teaching them basic commands, and not starting them too young, there ain’t no such a thing as training dogs. It’s all instinct. The dogs train themselves; it’s bred into them. Nobody can teach nose, grit or smarts, and anyone that says they can is a d*#n liar!”
Shook Vance –a hunting partner of Von Plott’s and one of Hack Smithdeal’s legendary brush busting dog handlers from the 1940s and 50s, echoed Plott’s comments:
“I don’t know what trade secrets the Plott boys have in training their dogs, but all I know is that their dogs just seem to know how to get the job done.”
What Mr. Vance was saying here, somewhat tongue in cheek, is that the Plott boys did not have any training secrets –they just bred consistently good bear hounds.
What’s this got to do with pedigree? The answer is simple. Even dating back to early handwritten papers –long before dogs were officially registered – smart breeders kept written records tracking their breeding programs. And in doing so, they dramatically increased the likelihood of successful litters and decreased the need to cull.
I have included two old handwritten pedigrees for your review that further verifies this point. These are Plott family pedigrees, one of them originating in the 1930s and the other starting in 1948, but going back to the 20s and earlier.
The old adage of breeding the best to the best comes into play here as well. It sounds easy, and to some degree it is. Taking an outstanding gyp and breeding it to a proven stud often results in a good cross. But an even better cross can be insured if you have the past pedigrees (or knowledge) to trace the performance of their ancestors back several generations. This is a proven road map in making sure that those ancestors’ possess the exact same traits you are looking to retain and continue in future litters.
Is it 100% accurate every time? No, nothing is perfect. Some will argue that they know all these things in their head and don’t need to write them down or register their hounds.
If that’s the case, good for you, you are the smartest person in the world to be able to keep all that knowledge in your head. But regardless, if you have a legitimate documented pedigree, or one that you have just memorized consisting of dogs that you have known well for multiple generations, then your odds of producing an outstanding litter are extremely high.
Moreover, the odds of continuing to do that consistently in the future are equally as good –and that’s about as much as any quality breeder can hope for. Some will argue that this is nothing more than common sense. That is true, but how many folks actually really know the bloodlines they are breeding to?
It usually goes like this: I have a great dog, so do you, we cross them and hope for the best –often with good success. Outside of the current sire and dam, they know nothing about the generations behind them. That’s fine, but sooner or later anything bad that is behind those bloodlines –maybe even several generations back – will eventually emerge. And when it does you will have big problems.
Knowing and understanding your bloodlines, your multiple generational pedigree and the traits that you hope to retain can prevent this from happening. This is especially integral to any breeder that strongly adheres to line breeding.
Next month we’ll talk about the difference between line breeding and in breeding and what that means to any successful long term breeding program. Keep in mind that this applies to any lineage of hunting dog – not just Plott hounds. Also don’t forget that these are simply ideas passed on to me. I take no credit for them, but I do know they work –and that’s all I need to know. Feel free to use them or lose them as you see fit.
I welcome your feedback regarding this article and any ideas for future columns. Until next time, thanks for reading, and may God richly bless you and yours in all that you do. Good hunting my friends!